Sunday, August 10, 2014

Living la Vie en Rose in Toulouse, France (Summer 2014 travelogue - Part 2)


Le Capitole, Toulouse


Je viens du sud. I come from the South. This summer, after a tumultuous and stressful year, I went back where everything started, to my hometown, Toulouse, or as it is known all over France, "la Ville Rose," the Pink City, because of its magnificent red brick buildings. 

The 4th largest city in France, with the third largest student population, Toulouse is young, vibrant, and dynamic: A European hub for the aerospace industry, it is host to many companies' headquarters, including Airbus industries, the Galileo positioning system, the Spot satellite system, Intel, and more. 

But there are other reasons why I so enjoyed my hometown after all these years. And I believe they are the same reasons you would enjoy visiting Toulouse, too.

1. Toulouse is eminently walkable - and bikeable; her protected historical center compact, with many pedestrian-only streets. A stroller's paradise.

Even on a busy Saturday afternoon, crowds remain manageable. One never feels cramped here. People visit museums casually, without the endless lines and chaos found this time of year in other places in France, and Europe. Toulouse, as a true Southern Belle, marches (strolls?) to the sound of her own drum. 




Place de la Bourse

2: Toulouse is a feast for the eyes. 

The architecture is spectacular, from old medieval buildings, to the massive and elegant private mansions built in the 16th century by affluent local merchants. And everywhere you look, pink bricks. Toulouse lives "la Vie en Rose," 365 days a year. 




Hôtel d'Assezat - Fondation Bemberg
Moving can be a perilous affair!

3: Toulouse is unmistakably Southern.

Ancient platanes (plane trees,) line her streets, squares, and waterways, providing dappled shade in the summer heat. Pastel blue wood shutters adorn most façades, and keep homes cool. Toulouse skies come in many shades of blue: C'est le sud. This is the South. 



The Canal du Midi, a civil engineering masterpiece, was built in the 17th century
and links the Mediterranean and the Atlantic
Somewhere on Toulouse's Left Bank.
Friends meet Place Wilson

4: Toulouse has world-class museums and two Unesco World Heritage sites.

In this city, art, history and culture are part of daily life. So many churches, cathedrals, and basilicas; testimonies of a deeply religious past. A long time ago, pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela stopped and prayed in Toulouse's iconic Saint-Sernain basilica, the largest romanesque church in Europe (11th century.) At les Augustins, a 14th century monastery complete with a church and spectacular cloister, was turned into the local Museum of Fine Arts, and boasts prized collections from European masters. 



St Sernain basilica, and its unique octogonal church tower
Les Augustins: A cloister... and lounge chairs. 
Inside les Augustins: Paintings from European masters (15th through 19th century)
Les Augustins: Special exhibit by artist Jorge Pardo showcasing
the museum's prized romanesque capitals collection
My personal favorite: A unique display of medieval gargoyles... standing vertically for once.

5. A river runs through it. 

All great cities are surrounded by water. Toulouse is no exception. The Canal du midi (pictured above,) is a local landmark. But her most famous waterway is the mighty Garonne river. Her most renowned bridge, le Pont Neuf (built 1544-1626) is also her oldest. It has survived all of the Garonne's destructive floods. On sunny days, les quais (the river banks) attract Toulousains and visitors, a delightful place to enjoy the city.



Le Pont Neuf


6. Toulouse has fantastic food.

This is Southwestern France, where duck reigns supreme. Visitors and locals sample Cassoulet, the hearty meat-studded specialty (it originated in the neighboring town of Castelnaudary,) or magret de canard (duck breast cooked in wine sauce and served with sauteed potatoes.) Fresh produce abounds at local markets. Boulangeries and pâtisseries display their tempting wares (this is France, after all.) 




Magret de canard
Marché des Carmes



7. Toulouse has great shopping. 

Toulouse is not picky: From designer brands to international chain stores; from chi-chi boutiques to cheaper apparel stores, she has it all. My favorite boutiques remain what they have always been: fleuristes (florists) and papeteries (stationery stores.) 


"Vert-Rose" (Green-Pink)
How perfect for the "Pink City..."
"Mes Aïeux" (My Ancestors) specializes in old postcards.
I had a blast there!

8. Les Toulousains.

The people of Toulouse. My people, still. I delighted in listening to their Southern accent, often elected "France's most charming accent," in national polls.

I enjoyed chatting with them in boutiques, and at restaurants. Unlike Parisians, they smile in the subway and start conversations with strangers. You might say they are more relaxed, and why shouldn't they be? They live in a beautiful city that has not yet suffered the impact of mass tourism. The French are in on the secret, however: Toulouse is the country's fastest growing city. 

As I watched les Toulousains for a few days, I can understand why. They know how to enjoy life, their city, and the fabulous restaurants. Many French people do, but there is something special in the air, here. Something irresistible. I will be back, Toulouse




Somewhere in les Carmes neighborhood 
Brasseries,  Place du Capitole


A bientôt.



A French Girl goes home
Toulouse, July 2014


All photos by French Girl in Seattle.
Do not reprint, Pin or copy without permission.
Thank you.

Travel information: 

Toulouse is easily accessible by air (Blagnac airport,) or by TGV (high speed train,) a 5.5 hour train ride from Paris (Gare Toulouse Matabiau.) 
The city has an excellent public transportation system: Buses, a modern subway, and a tramway. There is a free bike rental system (Vélo Toulouse.)
Mediterranean beaches are less than 2 hours away. There is great skiing in the Pyrenees south of Toulouse, less than 2 hours away. 
The Toulouse Tourist office is here.

19 comments:

  1. You look fabulous! Sounds like a trip home was just what you needed!! Thank you for sharing this beautiful place!

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    1. You're welcome Heather. I did enjoy retracing my footsteps...

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  2. I tried entering a comment before but got an error. :( You look fabulous! Looks like the trip home was just what you needed! Thank you for sharing this beautiful place!

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    1. Heather-- You are back! Thank you -- AGAIN! ;-)

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  3. Looks like lots of fun, Veronique. What a lovely place. So glad you got to visit home this summer.

    Apologies for not responding to your inquiry yet! It was a busy weekend. I'll be in touch tout de suite!

    Have a lovely week. XO

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    1. Thank you for stopping by Jeanne! It was a lovely trip indeed; a lovely trip in a lovely French city...

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  4. looks wonderful and so pleased you enjoyed your visit home....Toulouse is definitely on my travel agenda this year so thanks for all the tips...Greetings from Nice....

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    1. Wonderful Catherine. Nice is not that far away by train, or by air! Make it a long weekend. You will love Toulouse!

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  5. Loved this post! So many gorgeous photos. I was there once, all too brief, too many years ago. Such a wonderful city. Merci Veronique!

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    1. You're so welcome. Toulouse is easy on the eyes!

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  6. Beautiful photos Veronique! I just love the Midi-Pyrenees region. Thank you for this lovely post!

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    1. De rien, Nadège. I am convinced it is impossible to take a bad photo of Toulouse. My camera does the rest. Happy week in California!

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  7. I can fully understand why you are clearly so proud of your beautiful home town which has so much to offer. Those amazing blue skies, the different styles of architecture, friendly locals and great shopping all appeal to me and magret de canard is a favourite of mine too! Toulouse is a city I have considered for a while and your detailed travel guide
    has confirmed that it's well worth a visit. Great post Véronique.

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    1. Miss b, well said. You *have* to add Toulouse to your must-see list! C'mon, a world traveler such as yourself has got to visit la Ville Rose! You are just a short flight away... Bon weekend !

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  8. Thank you for taking us to this beautiful city with its own distinctive character……and there's no place like home. Warm regards.

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    1. Exctement, Elizabeth. Even after all these years; and all these locales I have lived in, Toulouse almost immediately felt like home. Almost magical! Thank you for your visit. Hope your "Petite Folie" is treating you well these days!

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  9. So beautiful. I should definitely make a point of visiting my paternal grandfather's hometown un de ces jours. You have inspired me. Wonderful post, ma chère. We need to have a good cyberchat very soon.

    Big bisous, M-T

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  10. Oh man! You're really making me home sick. Can I say home? Yes it's partly home. I named my first cat Toulouse.;)

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Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle